The perfect game (My Baseball Winter #2)

by Steve

So, following on from my intro to My Baseball Winter I thought I’d actually start chronicling my Wintertime baseball experiences. This is not in chronological order, so unfortunately my ‘journey’ may end up a rather fragmented one. I think I may end up offering these snapshots and hope that they add up to, well…something beyond the sum of their parts. Before I begin, a tiny bit of context. I recently tried scoring my first game (thoughts and scans to come in the near future, all being well). I’ve also been perusing last season’s stats. Generally with a confused expression on my face. OK, well, let us finally get this blog post started…

Sport doesn’t really matter. We could function as human beings without it. I hear that some people even do. Just as some people function without music, literature, art or any of that other useless stuff.

But boy, life would be empty without all those things. Especially sport.

While ‘art’ can, and does, engineer moments that transcend the everyday, sport doesn’t. But it still happens, from time to time. By chance, and as a wonderful by-product of the technique of those involved and of the contest itself. And that’s what makes sport magical.

That sometimes it can make us feel alive, without even trying.

On July 23 this year Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox threw only the eighteenth perfect game in Major League Baseball history, and only the sixteenth since 1900. This is perhaps the ultimate act in the sport of baseball. To throw a perfect game a pitcher must, over the course of a nine inning game, allow no opposing player on to base.

This might not sound that impressive to someone new to baseball, but let’s think about this a second. This has happened on only eighteen occasions, in thousands and thousands of games. Bear in mind there are just short of 2,500 games played a year. So, in well over a quarter of a million games (if my shaky, hurried Maths is right), each starting with two pitchers (one a side), a perfect game has only been pitched those few times. July 23 really was a historic day.

So, as part of my ongoing baseballing education, I decided to sit through Buehrle’s famous innings. And I was struck by how much sport, this wonderful, useless pastime, can mean. Genuinely, there was a beauty in Buehrle’s performance, as it unfolded. Even though I knew the outcome, I was still overcome with tension and emotion on each pitch.

I think this was because the ‘perfect game’ isn’t entirely perfect. Bear with me here. Each pitch isn’t a strike, with the batter missing the ball. Some batters hit the ball, only for the ball to drop into foul territory. A matter of a couple of inches keeps the game ‘perfect’.

Some batters make contact with the ball but are out before they reach first base. Some balls are struck into the field, only to be caught. In the most dramatic moment of the game, in the ninth and final inning, the substitute fielder Dewayne Wise somehow juggled the ball from his gloved hand to bare hand as his body hit the outfield wall. His skill kept Buehrle ‘perfect’.

And that’s what makes the perfect game so fascinating. While the pitcher might look lonely on the mound, he is never truly alone. The perfect game only happens if his fielders can support him. Watching the game, each catch and each piece of fielding, to remove an opponent, takes on a real significance in hindsight.

What at first appears to be an individual milestone, proves to be the work of a team in perfect harmony in one particular game. How often do we really see that in sport, or, indeed, in life? Yet, on just a regular, run-of-the-mill day, this happened.

There’s the special thing about sport. It can be memorable, touching, moving, important at any time. This was just another afternoon game in another season, until events unfolded. Every game in every sport has the potential to be historic, or to bring joy to its participants or observers. Whenever we turn up or tune in, something incredible might be on the horizon. This was a great example of this. Perhaps this is why we cling to sport and stick with it no matter what disappointment it may throw at us.

Sport shows us that on any given day something amazing could happen to us.

Photo from The People’s Tribune via Twitter